The Amazon Rival Giving Independent Bricks and Mortar Retail a Digital Leg-Up

It’s always been a challenge for independent shops offering something ‘different’ to hold their own against big chain rivals that cater to the mass market and have huge economies of scale when it comes to pricing. That dynamic has increasingly translated into online retail where the big boys increasingly dominate, a fact demonstrated last week when U.S. tech giant Amazon, whose core business is online retail, posted recorded quarterly profits of $2.5 billion (£1.91 billion).

Amazon’s dominance of the growing online retail sector has the big bricks and mortar operators running scared. They are scrambling to ramp up their own online presence to survive in a new digital-dominated retail reality but are trying to make up ground against a hugely wealthy and experienced rival that already has much of the best online real estate cornered.

Small bricks and mortar independents are struggling to compete against the big bricks and mortar chains. The big bricks and mortar chains are struggling to compete against Amazon online, with online retail already accounting for 15 pence in every pound consumers spend. It looks like independent bricks and mortar retail occupies a bleak position in the retail chain and a struggle for survival, especially in an environment of increasing business rates. Luckily, Amazon has a relatively new but quickly growing UK rival whose business model is based on providing an online platform designed to help even the digital field for independents.

Trouva, a London-based tech start-up that is now five years old curates the cream of the UK’s bricks and mortar ‘boutique’ retail on its digital marketplace. If Amazon and eBay are the online equivalents of a huge out-of-town mall or retail park full of international chains, Trouva is the online embodiment of the ‘off high street’ cobbled road lined with artisanal independents selling painstakingly selected, high quality products. The platform is designed to put these independents in front of what would otherwise be inaccessible online footfall.
In Trouva’s own words:

“This empowers them to out-compete the retail multiples and ecommerce giants who sell online from faceless warehouses”.

Despite the growing share of consumer spending that online retail is taking, bricks and mortar shopping is far from dead. Consumers still enjoy browsing through goods they can see physically in front of them as well as preferring the convenience and often lower prices that online retail offers. The customer journey often involves a combination of bricks and mortar and online retail. That fact is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that Amazon, the undisputed king of online retail, has started the process of also establishing a bricks and mortar presence.

More expensive items whose value is based on their quality, design and relative uniqueness are still most suited to bricks and mortar retail format. Buyers want to be able to see and touch before making a decision. However, a strong digital presence is also important for the sellers of this category of products to be competitive. Buyers can either first create a short list of products they are interested in online and then go to the shop to see them physically. Or can first see them physically in-store before following up to complete the purchase online.

However, the owners and management of most independent retailers lack one or a combination of the time, expertise and budget to create a strong online shopping presence and experience.

Trouva, as Amazon and eBay do for mass market products, is able to offer the latest technology in the world of a user-friendly online retail experience and digital marketing presence, to help small retailers overcome this hurdle. From customer service and inventory management to online marketing, Trouva takes care of all of the online retail considerations, allowing the retailers themselves to focus on what they do best – curating selections of unique and beautiful products.

In order to maintain the quality of the products offered on its online retail platform, Trouva’s management has a strict vetting policy and rejects the majority of retailers that apply to have their inventories included. The independents featured are ‘design led’ and ‘most are run by designers or ex-buyers, and, crucially, those that already have successful stores’.

Despite that selective nature, Trouva already has 450 UK partners, which it hopes to be able to increase to up to 5000. The company has also recently launched in Berlin, a city famous for its design culture and the quality of its independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Trouva co-founder Mandeep Singh strongly believes that bricks and mortar retail that wants to survive will have to find the right balance in creating a hybrid online and offline presence:

“The revolution is yet to come. Ecommerce only accounts for 15% of UK retail sales, so what happens if this increases? There’s going to be the decimation of big chains that won’t survive against Amazon.

“There needs to be some acceptance of that. Bricks and mortar retail isn’t dead, but it’s going to change beyond recognition.”

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